Chief executive election marks dawn of new era

May 8, 2022, is a historic day for Hong Kong. John Lee Ka-chiu, a veteran civil servant, was elected sixth-term chief executive of Hong Kong with 1,416, or 99 percent, of the votes cast. This makes him the candidate elected with the largest majority in the last 15 years.

Under improved electoral rules made by the National People’s Congress in March last year, Hong Kong was finally able to elect a chief executive candidate who is able to unify the pro-establishment camp, putting an end to the highly divisive and acrimonious competition of the past two elections.

As a modern leader, Lee is best positioned as a pathfinder standing at the center of concentric circles, starting with unifying the pro-establishment base, and then gradually reaching out to the wider community, rather than as someone perched at the top of a bureaucratic hierarchy.The 1,500-strong chief executive Election Committee is a microcosm of Hong Kong’s society, minus the anti-China elements. From the time he declared his candidacy for the chief executive position, Lee had less than a month to formulate his policy manifesto and to engage the people. But the ability to unify and consolidate support from the pro-establishment bloc is a good starting point.

The G7 countries and the European Union have reacted to Lee’s election with typical self-centered political bias and sanctimonious self-delusion. The statements issued by the high representative of the European Union and the G7 foreign ministers and the European Union on May 8 and 9 alleged “violation of democratic principles” in the election. They should look themselves in the mirror and reflect on the reality that while political pluralism and popular participation in governance have been long-held political norms, there are signs that this polyarchal system is fraying and functioning less and less well in solving the people’s problems.

In the United States, over 100 democracy scholars have issued warnings about an impending crisis of democracy because of vote suppression and politicization of the electoral process — in effect putting partisan interests above national interests. In recent years, referendums and universal suffrage-based elections in the West, such as the referendum on Brexit, have proved increasingly polarizing and divisive, hampering the elected leaders’ ability to deliver real solutions to the problems faced by the people.

China never promised democracy nor universal suffrage-based elections in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Hong Kong was governed as an autocracy at the time the Sino-British Joint Declaration was being negotiated. “One country, two systems” is, first and foremost, a reunification project. There was no possibility of China agreeing to grant Hong Kong a Western-style democratic system given that such a system did not exist in Hong Kong in the 1980s, nor had Britain ever made any serious attempt to push democratic development during its over 150 years of rule over Hong Kong.

Accusation of China departing from a Western-style democratic system promised to Hong Kong people is thus political fiction constructed ex post facto to smear China.

Accusation of China departing from a Western-style democratic system promised to Hong Kong people is … political fiction constructed ex post facto to smear China

The Basic Law grants Hong Kong people a pathway to universal suffrage-based elections in forming the Legislative Council and selecting the chief executive as the ultimate aim, and subject to two crystal clear preconditions — “in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress”. China has granted Hong Kong people a route to universal suffrage-based elections in the Decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee of Aug 31, 2014, but the offer was rejected by the self-proclaimed “democrats” in a vote in the Legislative Council in June 2015.

In any event, Hong Kong’s experiment with Western-style democracy in the past 25 years has not worked well. The self-styled “democrats” in the legislature had gone from pro-human rights and freedoms to anti-China, anti-government and anti-development. Their extreme filibustering tactics have prevented the SAR government from bringing about reform and progress. Hong Kong’s many long-standing problems, such as the acute land and housing shortage, retirement protection, the widening wealth gap, and the lack of upward mobility for young people, cried out for solutions, while political factions locked in verbal (and sometimes physical) battles in the legislature.

The electoral overhaul devised by the National People’s Congress gave Hong Kong a chance for self-correction. The new legislature is now rid of rejectionists and anti-China extremists. There is a strong groundswell of popular support for early solutions to problems that have aggrieved Hong Kong people in the past few years, such as reopening of our boundary with the Chinese mainland, reviving our economy, revitalizing our global competitiveness, and resolving the many livelihood problems facing the people.

John Lee is the man of the moment. He is well-positioned to develop a more-constructive and collegiate relationship with the legislature. As a seasoned law enforcer, he fully recognizes the importance of the rule of law and an independent judiciary to safeguard national security as well as individual rights and freedoms. His emphasis on adopting a “results-oriented” approach and “key performance indicators” reflects the premium he puts on producing the desired outcomes rather than dwelling on procedures. After the long delays Hong Kong people have experienced in awaiting solutions to basic livelihood problems, actions, not empty words nor populist promises, are what we need to return Hong Kong to a path of growth.

All eyes are now on how Lee forms his new governance team, including his senior advisers on the Executive Council, and action-oriented principal officials who will be charged with formulating action plans. Lee is himself a sincere and unassuming person who has a reputation for teamwork and willingness to take advice. He is the right man in the right place at the right time, and well placed to take Hong Kong forward in the next chapter of the city’s development.

The author is a member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.